Peng Shuai has described reports she accused a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault as a “huge misunderstanding” as she repeated her denial the alleged incident ever took place.
The former doubles world No 1 said in a social media post in November that she was forced to have sex with former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post was swiftly deleted and her subsequent silence raised fears over her safety.
In an interview published on Monday with the French newspaper L’Equipe, during which she was accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan who translated her responses, Peng insisted she had been unaware of the global concern.
The interview was released at the same time as a statement by the International Olympic Committee, which confirmed Peng had had dinner on Saturday with its president Thomas Bach and the former chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry.
In the interview with L’Equipe, Peng said: “I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way.
“There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I don’t want any further media hype around it.
“I never disappeared. Everyone could see me. I never disappeared. It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the IOC messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends.”
Peng’s predicament sparked a global call for transparency led by the Women’s Tennis Association, which announced in December the suspension of all tournaments in China due to its dissatisfaction with the response to the allegation from the Chinese authorities.